Posted on: July 7, 2016
I’ve been staying in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem with a friend I met when I worked in the Jewish non-profit sector. We’re sharing an apartment with three lovely cats, one who is a teeny kitten named Oreo who loves to play with my braids (and everything else, because kittens).
Yesterday I woke up fairly early, turned down an invitation from my friend to join her at the Kotel with Women of the Wall (I promised my wife and mother I’d stay out of mischief), and set out to explore. Starting with food.
When I settled into Tmol Shilshom Cafe a wave of familiarity washed over me, I’d been here before – Five years ago when I was in Israel! Instead of eating inside the small and friendly cafe, I ate outdoors shaded from the hot morning sun by an awning. An Israeli group of friends smoked and drank coffee behind me, students from the UK were across from me and a man wearing a kippah sporting long payot smoked cigarettes while working on his laptop. The service was long and it allowed me to just sit and enjoy the accents around me, the sound of the street below and start to settle myself in the pace of Jerusalem life.
Posted on: July 5, 2016
Welcome to my Travel bLog!
It seems crazy to think that I’m on the first leg of my trip to Israel. I barely slept last night between the street fire works, the dog, anxious nerves I’d say that I probably got in a solid two hours of sleep. Thank G-d I do my best sleeping on airplanes.
I’m headed to JFK for a short layover and then to Helsinki for an 11 hour lay over, which I’m super jazzed about. I found this website (thanks, Google) and while it’s not a perfect itinerary, it’s not a bad one either and it allows me to see several aspects of Helsinki in the most amount of time.
If you’ve been to Helsinki and have a place that I absolutely must visit, please let me know!
Posted on: June 30, 2016
In FIVE DAYS I will be boarding a flight to Israel to spend three weeks at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies for their Summer Learning Intensive.
I cannot begin to explain to ya’ll how excited I am about this endeavor. I’m thrilled to be doing some serious Jewish learning. I’m excited about living in the Holy Land for three weeks. I’m excited about representing Jews of Color. And I’m excited about bringing everything that I’ll glean back to my work as a Jewish Diversity activist and advocate.
Throughout my Go Fund Me campaign I’ve been using the word “investment” rather than “donation” and it’s for a specific reason. There are many amazing and worthy causes on the Go Fund Me platform. And asking for money of friends and strangers is often awkward. I thought long and hard about if it was the right thing to do and in the end, I knew that it was because my friends, my family, my community believes in me and the work that I do. Therefore, they, you, weren’t making a donation, you’re investing in me. Saying that you believe in me, in the work I do, and that the work I do in the Jewish community is important.
So while the trip is a personal one; I will be traveling to Israel, I will be studying at Pardes, I will be elbow deep in Torah learning, it’s also a public trip because I’m going on it with the help, with the investment in the people who have given to this campaign.
As a reminder, I was raising money for the flight to Israel and for tuition. I’ve had to change the campaign goal from $2000 to $2300 to adjust for travel insurance and other unexpected travel expenses that came up.
So I’m sending one final message (for real) asking if anyone who wanted to invest in Jewish Diversity Education and Leadership but hadn’t done so yet can do so.
Any amount helps.
I’m looking forward to sharing photos, thoughts, and lessons learned over on my blog while I’m away.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart!
Posted on: June 25, 2016
I was browsing a few shuls in the Seattle/Tacoma area looking for the websites of prayer spaces that I have been in to be added to the Welcoming Synagogues list JMN has been curating for the last several years. As I browsed through some of the local synagogues I personally vetted I and noticed the word “diverse” used in nearly every mission statement of Seattle-area shuls. Let me take a moment to acknowledge that diversity means a lot of things and these sites definitely do not specify what diversity means to them. And while I would have to agree that on some levels the spaces I’ve been in have represented a diversity in age and gender and in some cases sexual orientation and gender presentation, they lack racial diversity. And for me, and for most JOCs I would have to argue, when we see words like “welcoming” “inclusive” and “diverse” we presume that it refers to racial diversity. But our hopes are almost often gnashed when we see only white faces in photos and when inclusiveness means interfaith. (Seriously, just call it interfaith).
I’ve written about mission statements before. I’ve helped write and re-write them for organizations and causes. They are useful tools and they are written to have all of the “right” words if you’re going to attract the people you hope to serve. I also find that they are really, in a lot of cases, empty promises written from a place of aspiration and intention, but more often than not, fall flat. Synagogue mission statements should be more honest like, “We’re working hard on inclusion and diversity, but we’re not great at it.” or “We’re trying to be diverse and inclusive to all people, but we’re not sure what that means really.” or “We’re complete shit at diversity, but we don’t want to be.” If mission statements read honestly I and other folks “on the fringes” would know what we’re getting into.
In NYC I never really paid much attention to them because they were often disappointing and inaccurate. And because most of shuls or minyanim I attended were vetted by friends. Therefore before entering a new space I knew which ones were truly egalitarian, which ones had a more young, hipster crowd. Which ones had a sprinkling of JOCs, which ones were super queer friendly. And which ones to avoid at all costs. Not everyone has friends who are JOCs or perhaps you’re new to a city or are curious about converting to Judaism. When you’re in this position, the synagogue mission statement is often the first thing to be clicked on.
So when our mission statements say diversity and it means racial diversity, what is it that we’re really doing, really. Are our mission statements aspirations for bigger goals? Are we only concerned about racial diversity when it’s brought to our attention? Do we fall back on easy outs like MLK or Black History Month? And what would happen if, say, we focused our attention – as a Jewish community – on Jewish diversity in the same way we focused on making women equal participants in prayer spaces and LGBTQ folks? I say this with 100% realization that we don’t do these things very well all of the time either, but we don’t balk when we see a woman on the bimah or a rabbi who is a lesbian. We write “LGBTQ” and “egalitarian” in our mission statements, but when is it time to write, “Welcoming to Jews of Color, Multiracial Jews and their families.” Is it so hard to do?
I didn’t write this post with the intention to go on and on about mission statements, but to mull over this idea that talking about Jewish Diversity and all that goes with it; race, racism, privilege, etc. is a hard pill to swallow. Recently I gave a talk at a local shul in Seattle (that is actually really great at recognizing the need for more nuanced conversation around race and racism within the Jewish community) for Shavuot. About 20 or so folks showed up to listen to me debrief the JOC Convening and ways for us to make our Seattle Jewish communities more open and accepting places for Jews of Color. I was expecting a conversation, but ended up giving more of a talk. When I opened the floor for questions or thoughts, I was met with a painful and uncomfortable silence. I started to panic a bit. I’m a sort of off the cuff speaker and really use my audience to help feed my talks. So when the audience isn’t as participatory as I expect things can veer off course quickly.
“So let’s talk about this idea of who we are as Jews,” I said. “And what it means that for some of us, we’re allowed privilege because of the whiteness of our skin, when only 50 some odd years ago, it didn’t matter how white you were you were still just a “Jew”. What if we think back to those times, the stories our parents or grandparents told us. Now, think about that and that feeling and use it put yourselves in the shoes of someone who looks like me. To some people, it doesn’t matter what we look like, we’re always going to be “Jews.”
I said something like that, but I’m sure it was more eloquent. But, I said it to make the reality of the importance of talking about diversity, especially racial diversity, as a vital key to talking about Judaism as a whole. I’ve been running up against the same old walls lately. People are reaching out to me asking me to speak at their shul, for their organization, or to write. But when I inquire about a permanent position addressing race or another piece of writing addressing race in Judaism I’m told that it’s been done or “we already covered it”. But have we? We’ve barely scratched the surface.
Recently a friend of mine, Sandra Lawson, wrote an article and in it she said she sick of seeing just white men with beards when she Googles the word rabbi. If you haven’t Googled “rabbi”, go ahead and open a new tab. She’s right. Pages of white men with beards and towards the bottom of the page you see a woman. But where are the rabbis that look like me? Until a face that looks like mine pops up, I’d say we have a long way to go and a lot more talking to do.
Posted on: June 24, 2016
Last year the United States Supreme Court ruled that love is love. And while Marriage Equality is only one step in a long marathon of rights that LGBTQ people not only need but deserve as citizens of the United States, it was a big step. I remember feeling elated. I cried. I hugged and kissed my wife. I felt like we’d made it.
Of course just because LGBTQ folks can legally get married in the U.S doesn’t mean that everything is, well rainbows, glitter and unicorns. In most states you can still be fired for being LGBTQ or gender non-conforming. Transgender folks are victims of hate crimes leading to extreme harm and even death, especially trans women of color. Gay men are still barred from donating blood, even in times of crisis. And hate is still preached from pastors, rabbis, priests, imams and many a tent revival. We are still killed and murdered simply for being who we are.
In the last two weeks I’ve watched my friends and friends of friends post countless articles, blog posts, news clip, memes and videos about the massacre that rampaged the LGBTQ community in Orlando and around the world. I’ve seen religious groups come out to condemn the violence and the resulting homophobia and Islamophobia that has come out of this. And I’ve watched in gratitude as my candidate, the President of the United States and Democrats filibustered and staged a sit in, all to demand better gun laws, actually saying the worlds LGBTQ and Hate Crime in relation to Orlando.
Make no mistake. White right-wing (and left-wing) media still want to make this about a Muslim terrorist. Yet, the white guy who shot up a black church wasn’t called as such, but that’s a different blog post. That crazy orange man wants to continue to spew his hateful rhetoric about Muslim people and the Muslim faith and I’ve seen far too many blatant homophobic rant about how the 49 dead and 53 injured deserved their fate because they were gay.
Well, I’m not afraid and I will not hide who I am.
I may not “pass” for a lesbian when people see me in the streets, but that doesn’t mean that I am hiding or will hide who I am. Because if I chose to hide who I am, who I love, how I live my life then the people who hate me for who I am win. Just as I can’t hide my skin color from racist assholes, I will not hide my gay pride from homophobic assholes.
Get the fuck over it.
I have been called every ugly word under the sun for wearing a gay pride shirt or holding my wife’s hand. Our bars, Centers, homes are are havens and our safe spaces, yet throughout history even those spaces weren’t safe and last Sunday proved to us that they’re still not safe.
We will not hide who we are. We will not be afraid of those who would do us harm. We will not be afraid to live our lives, have families, raise our children.
We are here. We’ve always been here. And we’re not going any where. So fucking get over it.
Happy Pride to the wonderful City of NYC. Where I came out. Where I went to my first gay bar. Where I met the love of my life and fell in love. NYC, the city where I held my wife’s hand during the dyke march. Where I stripped down to my bra and panties when the skies opened up above the Gay Pride March 9 years ago (when my wife and I met). NYC where I rode my bike down 5th Avenue with some Dykes on Bicycles and danced with drag queens. Where I met the most bad ass, awesome, loving supportive group of queers that have held me up when I was weak, that gave me shoulders to cry on, who see (and saw me) for who I really am, who love me fiercely and who I know would walk to the ends of the earth with.
Happy Pride to my new City, Seattle! I hear you put on a pretty good parade and Dyke March. I can’t wait to check it out this weekend!
Happy Pride, ya’ll! and Shabbat Shalom!
Posted on: June 20, 2016
In less than two weeks I will be going back to the Holy Land. A land that is holy to so many people and religious traditions and a land that is holy for me in my Jewish self and me in my Christian past. When I was home recently I listened to a lot of Pimsleur’s Language CDs in the car, trying to hammer out some basic skills for my almost month-long time in Israel. My oldest nephew, annoyed we weren’t listening to Top 40 radio piped up from the back seat.
“What are we listening to?” he whined.
“I’m learning Hebrew.” I replied.
“Hebrew. Is that the language Jesus spoke?”
“Well, yes. Maybe,” I stammered wondering how to handle the hot potato of varying religious beliefs with a nine year old. Turned out he’s a smart cookie. But, Dodah Erika already knew that.
“I think,” I continued, “that Jesus probably spoke many languages. Hebrew or something similar to it like Aramaic may have been his language.”
“So where do they speak Hebrew now?” he wondered aloud.
“In Israel mostly, I’m going there this summer.”
“Israel? That’s in the Bible! It’s where Jesus lived!”
“Sure is,” I said. “There are even places under the city where you can walk on the same street that Jesus walked.”
It was cool. For another five minutes and then I relented to their whining and changed the channel.
Later in my trip home, after reassuring my mother countless times that I would be perfectly safe in Jerusalem (BzH) I showed her some pictures from my first trip. Which, I don’t think I’d done before. I showed her the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and where legend has it that Jesus was crucified and buried. I told her that I intended to travel to Bethlehem to visit Rachel’s tomb to pray, that I was excited to be able to spend three weeks at a Jewish institution doing Jewish learning. And I tried to help her understand how important it is for me to do this work, not just for myself but for other Jews of Color and to help broaded and support Jewish Leaders of Color in our Jewish Communities.
While so much of this trip is about me. Much more of it is about the significance of having more Jewish leaders of Color be educated in Torah, Jewish text and Jewish oral tradition. It feels strange and exciting and scary and it’s all happening in less than two weeks!
Just over a month ago I started a Go Fund Me Campaign to help cover the cost of my flight to Israel and while I have stopped fundraising for the campaign, I wanted to write a final blog post about it in the hopes of securing a few more investments in my Jewish Education.
Thank you to everyone who has made a donation so far. I really appreciate it! If you haven’t donated and are in a place that you can, please consider making a donation in the next two weeks. If you cannot make a donation, please feel free to share this post or my campaign with someone you think can.
Posted on: June 13, 2016
I get NYT updates on my phone and like anyone else who gets these updates, was started to read that 20 LGBTQ folks had been killed at a nightclub in Orlando. I read the article by the light of my phone and the bits of sunlight that had started to stream into our bedroom. As I read, I listened to the light snoring of our dog and the heavy breathing of my sleeping wife and I felt a wave of sheer terror wash over my body.
We could be those people. Our friends could have been those people. I could have died simply for being in a space meant to be a sanctuary for me and my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I finished reading the article and snuggled in close to my wife and fell into a fitful sleep before waking again a few hours later. My wife brought us coffee to bed and said, “Can you believe that fifty people were killed at a gay club in Orlando?”
“Twenty,” I corrected her.
“No, it’s up to fifty now.”
The day went on much as any Sunday would. We busied ourselves with life; gardening, laundry, cleaning, playing with our dog. As I checked my phone my Facebook timeline started to fill with more news, shared communal sadness from the LGBTQ community and anger from all sides. Anger at the messages of prayer when tangible actions are needed. Anger at media outlets refusal to call it what it is; a hate crime. Anger at the media’s positioning of the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community against one another, though I realize that this hateful homophobe was no true Muslim. There was little mention of the fact that this was a hate crime, but rather an act of terrorism, which it is. But it’s an act of terror acted upon the gay community.
The sheer magnitude of this hate crime is astounding and I feel only shock and disbelief.
Last night my wife joined our friends and hundreds of others in our community for a vigil for the victims of the shooting but I didn’t go. I made an excuse about needing to finish up the cleaning, not being dressed or ready. And I’m still not sure I know why I didn’t want to go.
Something about the inaction of a vigil perhaps. Maybe it was a desire to be alone. And honestly, I worried the vigil would be very white and something about that didn’t sit well with me either. The fact is that a minority within a minority was targeted. Not only was the target gay, but also Latina/o. I’m not sure if this was the gunman’s motive or just his blind homophobia and hatred, but the fact remains that brown and black LGBTQ folks lost their lives and that fact, the it could have been me hurts me deeply. And the deafening silence of so many cis-gendered, straight white folks on my Facebook feed speaks volumes.
I will not be silent.
I will use my voice and say that I am here.
I see my other QPOC community and I feel your pain, sadness, anger and frustration.
I see my brothers and sisters and the Muslim community and I will fight hatred with love and understanding.
Take care of one another.
Baruch Dayem Emet. May the memories of those who were lost be a blessing to their friends and family and to the world. May the families and friends left behind be comforted with all of the mourners of Zion. And may we, as a people, lean into love and turn against hate.
Posted on: June 6, 2016
For the past 10 days I’ve been back home in Ohio. The majority of the time I was here to take care of my three nephews; boys aged 9 and under.
Most readers will remember that their mother, my sister (z”l), passed away from complications of long-term drug abuse. Since her death my parents have been the primary care givers to my nephews, a feat that I am always in awe of. My nephews are three different races; one of them is half Mexican-American, one is half white and the other is not mixed race, yet because of difference in color of their skin conversation about race and color aren’t taboo in their home. So, I was surprised when my middle nephew stated that he was the only black one because his skin was darker.
My emotions ranged from anger to sadness to frustration and of course fear. I wondered how I should respond and knew I needed to do so quickly because soon after he made the statement his brothers put their arms next to his comparing shade. So I said, “You’re all black and you’ll all be men one day, and unfortunately in this country that combination can be dangerous and for many black men, deadly.”
I had to downshift momentarily as they got sidetracked, thinking that the deadly combination meant they some how had the super powers of Superman or Spiderman (if only). And explained to them that boys only slightly older than the oldest had been shot and killed by police officers based solely on the color of his skin. That across the country black men (and women) had recently been killed or died because of their skin. And that this wasn’t something new, but sewn into the very fabric of the founding of our country. They of course wondered how all of this was so with President Obama running our country and I gave them a quick, yet thorough explanation of our country’s founding, the taking away of land of Native Americans, slavery and the resulting systematic racism of our country, as well as a lesson on feminism, patriarchy and white male supremacy. Reminding them that they were brothers and needed to stick together and that even though two of them shared ethnic and racial mixes, that the world we lived in would only see them as black men.
Maybe it was a lot for children who are 4, 6 and 9 years of age, but I don’t think so. I think that when these conversations of the realities of our world aren’t openly and frequently discussed we fall into a few categories; those who deny the fact that racism (sexism, ableism, ageism, etc.) exists, those who recognize it’s existence but who remove themselves from it, and those who have privilege (either racial or financial).
Even as the world rapidly changes around us and whiteness slowly becomes the minority (in the U.S) we can’t seem to shake our history of racism and as I’ve said countless times on this blog, the Jewish community isn’t immune to this racism.
I’m in a Conversion Discussion Group on Facebook and several times one of the Admins has tried to tell me that racism isn’t an issue in the Jewish community. He even went so far as to post a picture of an Ethiopian Jew at his shul and has told me about how Ethiopian Jews in his shul receive aliyot, all the while proclaiming that Hashem (G-d) doesn’t see color. And that may be true (though I don’t think so), even though we’re made in G-d’s image we aren’t G-d, we’re humans and we’re fallible.
So it is my thought that as Jews we have an extra responsibility to not only recognize when our communities aren’t inclusive of diversity, but to call out racism when we experience it. We need to push our synagogue Boards and leaders to make our communities inclusive of racial and ethnic diversity. We need to ask questions and we need to make sure that if the answers we receive aren’t satisfactory, that we work hard to get the answers we need.
Posted on: June 4, 2016
If there was a hierarchy of Jews of Color (JOCs) I can confidently say that JOCs who are black Americans are at the bottom of the rung of the ladder. Followed next, possibly, by Jews of African heritage, then Jews of Indian heritage and right up on the color line until we get to the top where you can claim the heritage of your ancestors from India or Iran but the paleness of skin or lightness of eyes and overall whiteness doesn’t give anyone else pause or reason to raise the question of Jewishness. It is at this level of whiteness that JOC identity can be or becomes something you decide to acknowledge, celebrate, rejoice in, claim, or something you hide because you can pass for white.
And it seems that if you’re a JOC working to do inclusion and diversity work in the broader Jewish community our choices are to either sit back and let the Jewish world go on around us or dig in our heels and work on making our black and brown selves not only seen, but heard and understood and appreciated. Yet, in either of these cases, it seems that we’re at the whim of the white supremacy of the American Jewish people; a toy to take off the shelf to play with or a trophy to remove from a case to show off to friends when the mood suits. Only to be discarded for the next new thing when the novelty of who we are has faded.
And still we have to prove ourselves to be valid as Jews in order for our organizations to receive a mere fraction of the wealth of our Federations. Meanwhile, other organizations create affinity groups and caucuses and for these “new”, “exciting” efforts are rewarded for their “innovative” ideas, while organizations that have been doing this work for decades are left behind. Well, I’m done sitting in the back seat. Hell, I’m not even riding in the front seat. I’m driving the fucking car.
I’ve been mulling over this pendulum of power in the Jewish community for a while, but as it’s been one month since the JOC Convening came to a close and as articles have been published about the amazing feat that was a half year’s hard work by dedicated volunteers, the articles that have been written and published have been written by the hand of those JOCs at the very top of the hierarchy, I can no longer hold my tongue.
I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked that the majority of the articles written haven’t been from the perspective of black Jews of Color and the glory of this space is that I can share my experience here.
The Convening, while incredibly frustrating at times to help organize, was the the one of the best Jewish experiences I’ve had in my life. Not only was I surrounded by black and brown Jewish faces I knew and loved, I was incredibly grateful to meet several dozen other black and brown Jewish folks who I never met, or only knew through social media. I laughed with people, I listened to common stories of alienation and frustration, sadness and anger and I rejoiced in personal triumphs. The gratitude I feel for being so lucky to have experienced that space made any of the headache of planning dissipate within the first few minutes of the first sessions.
And. It wasn’t always sun and roses.
I watched as white skinned JOCs sequestered themselves together at mealtimes, a very obvious division by color lines.
I witnessed black and biracial Jews of Color be asked to leave a table because the one they chose to sit at was intended for Jews of Puerto Rican decent.
And, I am guilty of this next one, I quickly saw us divide ourselves by color lines and go to sessions that seemed to fit with who were are as JOCs rather than pushing ourselves into others even if it felt uncomfortable.
I experienced colorism from other black and brown Jews of Color.
I witnessed a white skinned JOC approach a black skinned JOC and demand her story.
These experiences, though small in the larger picture of those three days, opened my eyes to the fact that even in a space where we are to be united because of the skin color that alienates us in our larger communities, that the supremacy of whiteness and lightness still prevails. And still, I was and continue to be, incredibly lifted up each day by the people who I met who stepped out of their comfort zones for an embraced, those who were able to check the privilege of their white skin, and those who enveloped me in their embrace not out of solidarity, but out of a deep-seated understanding of what it is to be a black Jewish woman.
While I’ve only had the privilege to call myself a Jewish woman for five years, below the lowest rung on the JOC hierarchy I stand on generations of Jews of Color; my ancestors whose bloodlines reach to the farthest books of Torah and whose feet walked on ancient Biblical lands.
In the Jewish Diversity Organization panel one constant thread among the panelist representing those JOC organizations, most of which have been doing the work of Jewish diversity and inclusion for decades, was the need for the Jewish community at large to support us not just in word, but fiscally invest in Jews of Color and Jewish leaders of Color.
I’m am incredibly humbled to say that my Go Fund Me Campaign was successful (you can still donate to help cover living expenses if you’d like!) and that I will be spending the summer studying at Pardes. I hope to use that knowledge to influence my Jewish community in the Pacific Northwest, and I charge other Jews of Color to take the wheel of their own Jewish lives. We should no longer stand waiting to be invited to the table. The invitation isn’t need it, we help to build the table.
Posted on: May 17, 2016
This is the last post I will write about my upcoming learning trip to Israel and my Go Fund Me Campaign. Afterwards, just my own thoughts about life and Judaism and anticipating going back to Israel.
So while I have you, assuming you’re still reading, I will take this moment to plead, beg, encourage, ask that you make a $18 (or any amount you’d like) donation to my Go Fund Me Campaign and in the notes tell me how you found my blog.
Through the years (Almost 6!) I’ve met folks who were interested in becoming Jewish. Who were queer and not sure they could be Jewish. Folks who were people of color not sure they could be Jewish. And a few of ya’ll were black and brown queer folks just happy to meet another black, lesbian Jew.
I’ve used my blog to help people who are Jewish & have a space to see themselves reflected in Judaism. I’ve tried to educate readers who are Jews by birth and perhaps not familiar or comfortable with the idea of Jews being people of color by looking at Torah and pointing out our historical racial and ethnic diversity. But I’m no Torah scholar and while I won’t leave Pardes after 3 weeks a Torah scholar, I will come out more learned in Torah and Talmud.
It’s this desire to learn that drew me to Judaism and it’s this desire to continue to share our rich ethnic and racial diversity that drives me to continue this work as a Jew.